Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1988. American Entertainment Partners II L.P., Gracie Films, Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg. Cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld. Produced by James L. Brooks, Robert Greenhut. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by Santo Loquasto. Costume Design by Judianna Makovsky. Film Editing by Barry Malkin. Academy Awards 1988. Golden Globe Awards 1988. National Board of Review Awards 1988. New York Film Critics Awards 1988.
A thirteen year-old kid is tired of being bossed around by his parents, told he’s too short to go on rides and constantly given chores to do, so like all kids his age he dreams of getting to adulthood (and independence) as soon as he possibly can. He is given his wish when a mysterious novelty machine at a local fair hears his request and grants it: he wakes up in the morning, and his adolescent body has been replaced by that of a grown man (played by Tom Hanks) with a kid’s mind. Rather than get arrested by his mother for what appears to be a kidnapping, he hightails it to New York City in search of the wish machine in order to reverse the trick, in the meantime managing to get a job as an executive at a toy company where his impressive instinct for what sells makes him super popular with the boss (Robert Loggia) and the natural enemy of a bitter employee (John Heard). When he makes the acquaintance of Elizabeth Perkins as a fellow executive who is attracted to his innocent charm, he gets serious about grown-up life and comes close to forgetting about the one he left behind; before long he is also realizing that life for adults is more than just buying whatever you want but still involves taking orders and dealing with the boring stuff. The film became the first massive blockbuster to be directed by a woman, and its easy charms are a natural fit for the pleasing of a wide audience: between the high-concept plot (which is better than any of the similar films made at the time, like Vice Versa or 18 Again) and the marvelous performance by Hanks (who really convinces you that he is a pre-teen in the body of a grown man), it’s immediately charming and sweet. It also suffers from what director Penny Marshall’s later films would be hampered by, particularly an awkward sense of pace that leaves too much room for dragging in a spritely comedy, not to mention the weirdness of a story that, from the point of view of the kid’s mother, is actually kind of horrific, but no matter, it’s a classic for a good reason.